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Musing upon the legacy of Rodin

· rodin

Upon the 100th anniversary of Auguste Rodin's passing, it continues to amaze me how the master is still bringing fresh, and at times previously unseen sculptures to the table. With their enduring inventiveness and sculptural prowess, these never fail to dazzle the contemporary viewer. Interestingly though, only few among the greatest works by Rodin have been cast in bronze during his lifetime.

"A plaster very similar to this bronze was exhibited in a prominent position in 1900, in the middle of the rotunda that served as the entrance to the Pavillon de l'Alma. [...] It also had the advantage of epitomising his research of the past fifteen years, since even though it was a relatively early work, its fragmentary form was in keeping with the artist's more recent developments."

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Until very recently, only two bronze casts of this model were in existence, one in the Minneapolis Institute of Art and another in the collection of the Musée Rodin, Paris. Measuring the importance of this work, and exercising it’s right as Rodin’s legal beneficiary to cast an existing model in a total edition of 12, the Musée Rodin decided in 2012 to continue the edition of this model with the production of cast 1/8. When I discovered this powerful piece, which so strongly echoes contemporary sculpture, I mused: "here is Rodin who from a distance of a century, is responding to contemporary art with new work, all the more so that it vies for the attention of collectors, insofar as it is also for sale."

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Left: Auguste RODIN (1840-1917)

Pierre de Wissant, nu monumental sans tete ni mains - 1886-1900

Bronze - 190 x 110 x 79 cm - Ed. 1/8 - cast in 2012 by Susse Fondeur

Right: Tracey EMIN (b. 1963)

Every part of me feels you - 2014

Bronze - 27.9 x 43.2 x 91.4 cm - Ed. 6

I have witnessed on several occasions encounters across time between Rodin and my contemporaries, and most poignantly in conversations with Tracey Emin who famously said "I’d love to be Rodin," and with Urs Fischer who glowingly shared with me his admiration of "Rodin on Art and Artists: Conversations with Paul Gsell." Apparently Thomas Houseago also greatly admires Rodin. But what strikes me the most is that these artists' communion with Rodin is 'from within.' Every time I have the good fortune to be part of one such encounter, I have the feeling that I'm privy to a conversation of sorts, an intimate moment during which an exchange of ideas occurs, out of which something new invariably emerges; it is really a case of "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," the Aristotelian phrase which aptly defines the modern concept of synergy.

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Left: Thomas HOUSEAGO (b. 1972)

Yet to be titled (Poured Figure) - 2014

Bronze - 238.8 x 97.2 x 96.5 cm - Ed. of 3 + 2 AP

Right: Auguste RODIN (1840-1917)

Pierre de Wissant, nu monumental sans tete ni mains - 1886-1900

Bronze - 190 x 110 x 79 cm - Ed. 1/8 - cast in 2012 by Susse Fondeur

Whereas Rodin's art inspires subsequent generations, and the acute vision of contemporary masters illuminates our understanding of the sculptor, it is chiefly his trailblazing approach to the creative process that makes him the "father of modern sculpture." The description of the outstanding extramural exhibition Metamorphoses co-organised by the Musée Rodin says, "the ongoing interplay of accidents and chance in his work, his figures fragmented only to be reconstituted through this ingenious “cobbling together,” enabled him to interpolate his work in an endless flow of creation. He was at the forefront of twentieth-century aesthetic thought: the role of the pedestal, enlargement, assemblage, ready-made…" Here again, we return to a wholistic approach of Rodin's work, a 'Gesamtkunstwerk,' to use a term that has come to define modernity, a methodology where the manipulation of myth and reality, and reference to art history and manifestation of human emotion, are all brought to the same plane, used by Rodin much like a contemporary musician practicing the art of 'sampling', where different melodies are moulded into a new song, one where echoes of the past create a bridge to the future.

"Antiquity is for me supreme beauty: it is the initiation to the infinite splendour of things eternal; it is the transfiguration of the past into a living eternity".

Auguste RODIN (1840-1917)

It is against this backdrop that I approach the work of Rodin: even as he looked to antiquity for a path to eternity, I consider Rodin to be the first sculptor in the modern era to experiment with new ways of seeing and with fresh ideas about the nature of materials and functions of art. Leaving it to art historians and institutions to scientifically plot the enormous influence of the master, I have developed a point of view from which connections are 'transversal' as opposed to 'linear,' where 'conversation' is given precedence over 'influence.' Although I often included Rodin in the signatory group exhibitions of my Berlin Akim Monet Side by Side Gallery GmbH, starting in 2014 I have brought my curatorial focus to the relationship between Rodin and modern and contemporary artists, and indeed to the re-examination of Rodin's presence in the contemporary world.

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Left: Auguste RODIN (1840-1917)

Torse de la Grande Ombre - 1902-1904

Bronze - 100,5 x 73 x 49 cm - Ed. III/IV - cast in 2014 by Susse Fondeur

Right: Louise BOURGEOIS (1911-2010)

Pregnant Woman - 2009

Archival dyes printed on cloth - 76,2 x 55,76 cm

As it were, my luck would be that introduced by my esteemed friend Jérôme Le Blay, author of the "Catalogue Critique de l'Oeuvre Sculpté d'Auguste Rodin currently prepared by the Comité Auguste Rodin," the directors and curators of the Musée Rodin, and in particular Catherine Chevillot and Hugues Herpin, welcomed with open arms my unconventional take on Rodin, and together we embarked on an adventure, Rodin the Alma Project, which in the centenary year 2017, has entered it's fourth year.

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Certainly rooted in my belief that tracing artistic influence poses the risk of taking away inventiveness, it is my intimate conviction that the secret in Rodin's work resides in the understanding that his is an ongoing process of transfiguration, and that only if one is able to surrender to the 'conversation' between Rodin and other artists, without imposing the looking-glass of 'influence,' can spirituality emanate from the material. This is the path to freeing the genie in Rodin's oil lamp.